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Out with the old, in the with the new. The Observer may be the only newspaper company in the country installing new news racks.

  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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After reaching an agreement with the city of Sarasota, our company, the Observer Media Group, is taking responsibility for replacing and updating all the rundown newspaper stands in downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle.

In many big cities, empty, often blighted newspaper stands dot the streets, reflecting the changed newspaper industry. In downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle, newspaper stands may not be empty, but you’ve seen them — rusted, often marked with graffiti and often filled with trash.  

We’re changing that. 

Starting next week, new modular news racks will start appearing on the east end of Main Street and work their way west to the bayfront and out to St. Armands Circle. 

In March 2020, downtown merchants brought vandalized newspaper stands to the City Commission’s attention in an effort to have the modular news rack at  the intersection of Main Street and Lemon Avenue taken out because they believed the racks contributed to issues associated with criminal behavior. 

Ultimately, that news rack was removed, resulting in the start of discussions between the Observer and city of Sarasota.

Aesthetics first

In the early 1990s, when the newspaper industry was booming, news racks were first brought to the city’s attention because a proliferation of singular news racks installed downtown caused concern that the racks would damage the city’s aesthetics.

Thus, the city adopted Ordinance 98-4089 that designated St. Armands Key, Bird Key and Lido Key as a “News rack Improvement District” that required publications to be distributed in “news information centers (aka modular news racks).” This continued as a pilot program through 1998 when the City Commission held a workshop to discuss using a third-party vendor, City Solutions Inc., to administer the modular news racks. 

This proposal sparked outrage from area publishers, including the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) claiming First Amendment rights violations. 

After working with newspaper publishers for two years, the city further expanded the code with Ordinance 99-4152, which tapped the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as the leader of a voluntary program. 

The Herald-Tribune installed and maintained the modular news racks on behalf of participating publications, which included the Observer Media Group’s publication the Longboat Observer, within city limits. This ordinance included a provision that prohibited the placement, installation or maintenance of any singular news rack within 250 feet of a modular news rack. 

Because the program worked so well, the city adopted another ordinance, 04-4551, in 2004 that increased that minimum required distance to 500 feet. 

Over the years, similar situations have occurred on Siesta Key and Bradenton Beach, with the Sarasota County Commission and city of Bradenton Beach following and modifying Sarasota’s codes. 

New(s) racks

After nearly 20 years of distributing area publications through the modular news racks, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s parent company, GateHouse Media (now Gannett), pulled out of operating and maintaining the news racks. To no surprise, that led to the current state of disrepair.  

But after a 2020 City Commission meeting, the Observer Media Group partnered with the Downtown Sarasota Alliance in a test case to clean up the modular news rack at Bayfront Park by repainting the racks red. While the fresh coat of paint did make the rack more visually appealing, everyone involved agreed: Brand new racks would be the best course of action. 

It took more than two years, but in April 2023, our company and the city entered an agreement allowing the Observer to perform the lead role to install, own, repair, operate, maintain and remove modular news racks in the city in accordance with the city code. 

A rendering of the new modular news rack located at 1970 Main St.
Image by Caleb Stanton

The Observer Media Group and nine other publications made a $24,000 investment in the new racks, with the Observer covering 65% of the cost. 

Finding a rack maker was no simple task. As we all have seen the decline of daily newspapers, there aren’t many companies still making or distributing modular news racks. We found one in Yoakum, Texas — Mechanism Exchange & Repair Inc. 

But because our order was so large, its spokesman told us the company did not have any of the parts in stock, and the racks needed to be fabricated from scratch. He said it would take about four months.

Finally, the new modular news racks are here. We will begin removal of the old racks and installation of the new racks with the unit at 1970 Main St. We’re estimating it will take six to eight weeks to complete the entire project. 

Investing in modular news racks is not only important to us and our media colleagues, but these racks are important to the businesses that advertise in our publications. Our mission at the Observer is to inspire our audiences with extraordinary local content and to help our partners prosper. And to ensure we are fulfilling our mission, we need to get our news and information to you, our readers, everywhere you are in a safe, clean and easy way. 

After a meeting with the city to map out our installation plan, the Observer’s circulation manager exclaimed, “I think we’re the only newspaper in the country putting in new racks!” 

He might be right, and we’re proud of it. 



Emily Walsh

Emily Walsh is the president of Observer Media Group and has served as publisher of the OMG’s Sarasota-based publications since 2016. She joined the company in 2001 as Black Tie photographer, later serving as editor of Black Tie and Arts + Entertainment, an advertising sales executive and chief digital officer.

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